Clarke picks historic day for Argentine trip

Was the timing coincidence, or was Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, sending some kind of signal over the future of the Falkland Islands? writes Phil Davison.

His visit to Buenos Aires this week, the first by a senior minister since the 1982 Falklands war, was to discuss trade and investment. But his meeting with President Carlos Menem and ministers yesterday came on rather a special day. On 3 January 1833, a British fleet told the Argentines they should leave the South Atlantic islands known to mainlanders as Las Malvinas. As far as Argentina is concerned, it was the original British occupation of the Falklands which eventually led to the war of 1982.

As the Chancellor met Mr Menem, the Argentine press carried the Foreign Ministry's annual statement reaffirming Argentina's sovereignty over the islands. Argentina "intends to continue talks with the United Kingdom with the aim of reaching new agreements in the south-west Atlantic".

The Falkland islanders expressed concern over Mr Clarke's timing, as they did over the visit to Argentina in November by the Princess of Wales. They felt the astute Mr Menem used the visit by the Princess to further Argentina's sovereignty claim.

Mr Clarke led a high-powered business delegation to Argentina, aimed mainly at increasing investment in the country, especially in newly-privatised utilities.